Saturday, February 14, 2009
It Ain't Half Shit, Mum. posted by Richard SeymourI have been waiting for this to happen. Some of you might remember a post that I wrote, about human zoos at the Colonial Exhibitions, in 2006. Just as a quick reminder:
A human zoo today is unnecessary to the culture of imperialism: why have cages when you have video frames, IP telephony, and airbrushed photography, infinitely reproducible (and reproduced) with only the slightest expenditure of energy? Whatever the racist immortaliser of Empire wishes to depict, he can do so with a bank of Google images, or with the services of a photographer or by paying Associated Press, or by contracting a squadron of cartoonists. But if there was to be a human zoo floated from London to Milan to New York, it might consist of a few hundred Muslims, Arabs, Africans, South American Indians. One could imagine the diorama - Muslims in various exaggerated states of beardiness, brownness, sexual repression, seethingness, wild-eyed fanaticism; Africans as comical or demonic dictators, pock-faced starving subjects gratefully receiving Western alms, tribalist (or Islamic) fanatics; South American Indians as an excitable but amusing brown rabble, occasionally given to selecting leaders whose expression and demeanour, because insufficiently domesticated and Westernised, is construed as bestial...
It turns out that something like that zoo has been put together, and is currently on display at the south bank of the Thames. In it are featured "incestuous, pig-breeding, drunken Irishmen, snooty Frenchmen, farcical Jewish anarchists and the animated presence of a mad mullah ranting about how women must be subservient to men". The 'mad mullahs', it is reported, are the most vicious characterisation in the whole show. Nevertheless, audiences have apparently been thoroughly entertained by this malicious drivel, presumably filled with the joys of Carol Thatcher (and equally equipped with her brain-dead conviction that racism is nothing more than harmless fun). The show is, so one gathers, a sort of post-Y2K version of Mind Your Language, although the Evening Standard reviewer preferred to compare it to a Bernard Manning set. The idea, playwright Richard Bean explains, is to get uptight Britons to "talk" about immigration, because it is presently a terribly difficult issue to discuss. As he puts it: "The British don't know how to talk about it ... You go to a dinner party and raise the subject of immigration, and immediately you're the rightwing loony." I am always immediately suspicious of people who complain of being censured at some inauspicious crudité-based gathering of the middle classes, and then offer that observation as an incisive sociological insight. You would think, wouldn't you, that Bean doesn't read the newspapers, or watch television, or have the faintest clue what is going on around him. How else could one miss the noisy and belligerent 'talking' that is certainly taking place around the question of immigration? So you might conclude that anyone who could utter such a solipsistic ipse-dixitism is an ignorant tosspot, yet another puce-faced bigot posing as a free-speech martyr. Probably, such a person has spent too much time imbibing intemperate commentary from the gutter end of the 'quality' press. But surely that would be a grossly unfair inference to make? Apparently not:
"Bean describes himself as a 'liberal hawk'. 'I'm not really a political beast,' he says, before lamenting the lack of political diversity in the theatre. 'In journalism, you have people like Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Rod Liddle, who are democrats and liberals, who occasionally say things that are unpalatable but are in my opinion true. Among playwrights, you don't have that broad church.'"
I can quite see how someone whose influences are thus could give the impression of being a "rightwing loony". Sadly, however, there is a bigger problem here than just a sad chauvinist posing as an indomitable cultural provocateur. As Arun Kundnani has pointed out, this is the problem of liberals who are losing their anti-racism in the toxic atmosphere of the 'war on terror'. In its obsession with questions of identity, integration and 'Britishness', the 'centre-left' has for almost two decades adopted the agenda of the New Right on race relations. New Labour supporting liberals such as David Goodhart worry themselves sick over the impact of (Muslim) cultural difference on national cohesion. 'Britishness', they insist, must be counterposed to 'multiculturalism'. They agree with Melanie Phillips that said 'multiculturalism' leads to 'segregation' and division, whereas a new civic nationalism based on nebulous 'values' can restore lost cohesion. In accepting that there is, or ever could be, such a thing as 'national cohesion', that it is a necessary condition for a functioning society, and that it is threatened by Muslims who somehow fail to integrate, they have essentially adopted the racist purview of the hard right. Some of these individuals are people who previously went to great lengths to assail the racist myths about asylum seekers. Nick Cohen could once be relied on to do this in his regular sunday column. Yet, obsessively pursuing the Blairite axiom that the Muslim community must root out the 'evil within', he now wants to deport 'terror suspects' to be tortured, just on MI5 say-so. And he has recently lent his support to Anthony Browne's racist arguments about AIDS being spread by African immigrants. (Anything to expunge the nasty taste of the appeasing Qaradawi-loving Livingstone regime.) The reverse Midas touch of anti-Muslim racism has given previously anti-racist liberals the license to sound off like the Duke of Edinburgh, all the while protesting that they are the victims of politically correct calumny. The pitiful spectacle at the National Theatre just dramatises that corrupt tendency.